London’s illegal mosque must go, says High Court

(photo: Destined for London?  The ijtema or gathering at Tongi in Bangladesh is bigger than the Meccan haj) 

London – A Muslim religious group has 21 days to appeal, yet again, a decision to have their illegal mosque near the UK’s Olympic village demolished, despite twenty years of non-compliance.

Judge Walden-Smith threw out the latest appeal by global Muslim revivalist group Tablighi Jamaat at London’s High Court on January 26.  It was seeking a further suspension of an injunction (order) to clear the site used by two thousand worshippers in Newham, East London.  She said they had made no effort to abide by local plans.

"Despite the five-and-a-half months that had passed since the adjournment, there had been no progress in entering an agreement with a developer, no steps regarding a site investigation or decontamination of the land, no application for outline planning permission, no consultation with the local authority, and no solicitors instructed to deal with due diligence or licence agreements with a developer." she said.

"The trustees were very far from agreeing any sort of development for the site. They were continuing to procrastinate," the Judge added, refusing the appeal at the High Court in London.

The Abbey Mills Riverine Centre site in Canning Road, Stratford, adjacent the former Olympic village, is a 6.5 hectare site on a contaminated former chemical factory site, and was purchased by the group for £1.4million in 1996 for a European headquarters or markaz.

“From the outset the development of the mosque was contrary to planning permission and therefore precarious. The current use of the site contrary to the injunction forthwith is a criminal offense.”
— Newham Borough Council

Structures which have been illegally built up over two decades and used by up to 2,000 worshippers from across the region every week must now be taken down.

Dubbed the "megamosque" by campaigners, the original plans accommodated 70,000 worshippers, and an Islamic training centre that would have been Europe’s biggest.

A furious backlash ensued, including a petition by local Muslims at odds with the group, which resulted in scaling back the plans to a 9,000-capacity mosque.  But no master plan integrating proposals with the strategic needs of the deprived borough for social housing and jobs and which was promised since 1997 was ever forthcoming, despite being shown considerable ‘indulgence’, according to the judge.

The planning process has involved two planning inquiries before HM Inspectors, the Mayor of London, the Secretary of State and the Master of the Rolls. The judge accused the Trustees of ‘obscurantism’ and ‘prevarication.'

"Undoubtedly, the enforcement will cause hardship to the Tablighi Jamaat who have enjoyed the Thursday lectures and other activities which take place on the site. Those activities are unlawful and while undoubtedly a benefit to the community and one they will miss, it has to stop." Newham Borough Council said after the hearing that they expected the owners of the site ‘to comply fully with the requirements of the injunction.

"From the outset the development of the mosque was contrary to planning permission and therefore precarious. The current use of the site contrary to the injunction forthwith is a criminal offense. We will monitor activity and correspond with the owners to affirm expectations as to when the required work will be completed," the Council added.

Mohammed Rahman, of the Tablighi Jamaat, told the court that the site was the only TJ site in London and catered to tens of thousands of adherents spread from Oxford, to Milton Keynes to Brighton, who would face considerable disruption they would find difficult to understand.

"They will return to the protests of before which appear to have been organized by the Newham People’s Alliance," he told the court.

However, most mosques in London now use Tablighi Jamaat training methods and an 800-capacity mosque in Christian Street, east London is owned by the group. 

It is likely that Rahman is referring to ijtemas when millions attend for days to hear sermons in huge open-air congregations such as in Tongi in Bangladesh or in Raiwind in Pakistan which are both bigger than the Meccan haj.  There is no other site suitable for such events that Muslims own in Britain.

Tablighi Jamaat – the world’s biggest group of Muslim proselytes – came to the attention of federal investigators in the States after 2001, when they cropped up on the margins of four terrorist related cases.  Several of the 7/7 bombers had spent time in the TJ and Richard Reid, the so-called shoe bomber, worshipped at one of their mosques as described by The New York Times

TJ claim to be pacifists and other-worldly, eschewing the limelight, and not responding to media requests as a point of principle. They say they are not able to control who attends worship.

Yet commentators claim they create a mindset in which radicalization is more likely.  Oxford imam Taj Hargey, who writes a column in the Daily Mail,  has described the movement as "scornful of secular democracy and Western values" and espousing "voluntary apartheid."

Research into the Tablighi Jamaat in Britain by academic Yoginder Sikand, published in 1998, suggested that the movement’s UK mission tried not just to impart religious knowledge but ‘to promote a sense of paranoia and even disgust of non-Muslim society’.

Some believe this has led them to play the system.  In the course of an earlier appeal in February 2011 against an enforcement notice applied by Newham, through their QC they gave a unilateral deed of undertaking that within 12 months they would submit a planning application for development that would comply with the local plan.  They undertook that if they had not done that, they would remove the unauthorised development. 

In breach of that undertaking, they did not make an appropriate planning application and continued to use the land as before.

A legal source commenting at the end of last Friday’s hearing expressed dismay at the lack of finality to the long-running case.

Costs of £22,000 were awarded against Tablighi Jamaat.